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Navigating the Interior Life Week 3 of 6 – Spiritual Reading

March 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Navigating the Interior Life Week 3 of 6

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Spiritual Reading

As part of any spiritual growth program, the seeker must be prepared to focus energies toward the preeminent goal of dynamic union with Christ. One critical aspect of this journey involves intellectual formation through spiritual reading the-good-portion-pictureand study, leading to a more mature ability to discern truth from error. A life-habit of regular spiritual reading and study is a key to successful navigation around the dangers of human frailty and deception (including self-deception). Regular reading and study prepare and arm us for the “spiritual warfare” we encounter as we get serious about our spiritual life. – Navigating the Interior Life, p. 24 (How Do I Find and Select a Spiritual Director: Preparing for the Search, paragraph 1)

Spiritual reading is a means of “preparing the soil” so that we are ready to make great progress with spiritual direction, once we enter into a relationship. For those who have a spiritual director, spiritual reading can help them to accelerate their spiritual growth, germinating the seed, and allowing those seeds of holiness to spout.

As an avid reader, I’ve been devoted to the notion of spiritual reading since my conversion, 18 years ago.  Today I thought I would share with you 5 things I’ve learned about spiritual reading throughout the years.

1.  Spiritual Reading Arms us for Battle!

We are assaulted daily by a culture that promotes the absolute antithesis of the virtues we want to exemplify. Spiritual reading helps train us to recognize the lies of the culture, and to promote and defend the TRUTH, who is Jesus Christ.

We are the Church Militant. Ephesians 6:11-17 tells us,

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I won’t belabor this point, but we are at war. And we must be armed for the battle.

2. Spiritual Reading Helps us to Know God. 

In a First Communion Catechism, we can find the question that is a top priority for each of us: What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?  The answer is, We must know, love and serve God in this world.

How can we love and serve Him without KNOWING Him?”

Frank Sheed in Theology for Beginners says, “While it is obvious that an ignorant man can be virtuous, it is equally obvious that ignorance is not virtue; men have been martyred who could not have stated a doctrine of the Church correctly, and martyrdom is the supreme proof of love. Yet with more knowledge of God, they would have loved Him more still.”

3. Spiritual Reading Has Produced Many Saints.

Saint Augustine, Saint Ignatius, John Henry Newman and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux are only a few of the saints that were highly influenced by spiritual reading.

After very little study of the saints, one can be confident that they held spiritual reading in high regard. In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales instructs, “Have always before you some good and pious book, and read a little in it each day with devotion, as if you were reading letters which the saints had sent you from Heaven, to show you the way and encourage you to follow it.”

In Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers, Rev. P. Lejeune says, “Why have the saints so highly extolled the advantages of spiritual reading? Why have they exalted it – almost to a level with prayer? …It arises from the fact that spiritual reading is one of the principal sources whence we draw light.”

4.  Scripture is Essential.

According to the Catechism, “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing through the breath of the Holy Spirit.” According to Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, “The Church does not live on herself but on the Gospel, and in the Gospel always and ever anew finds the directions for her journey.”

5.  Choices Matter.

What to read, in addition to Scripture and the Catechism?  There are hundreds of thousands of choices.  Most importantly, find a reliable source. Dan Burke provides a wonderful list in his book under “Faithful Guidance in the Spiritual Life.” Father C. John McCloskey has developed an extensive list, entitled A Catholic Lifetime Reading List. It includes books on spirituality, as well as theology, history, literary classics, books about holy men and women who’ve gone before us, and others.


Whether or not you've established a relationship with a spiritual director at this point, if you belong to this book club, or if you’ve done any faithful spiritual reading, you’ve been preparing your soul for the moment you find that spiritual director and step into that first meeting. And if you have established a relationship with a spiritual director and you continue with your spiritual reading, you either continue to till the soil, or you have begun to water the seeds that have been planted through the wisdom of your spiritual director. The key is to maintain focus, and not to allow your excitement keep you from sanctifying the quiet time spent at the feet of our Lord.

So let's continue to fill our souls with the great wisdom offered within the pages of each of these beautiful works, allowing the Holy Spirit to use spiritual reading as a tool to mold each of us into Christ; so that like Paul, we can say “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).


For Discussion:

1. Is spiritual reading part of your schedule every day?  Please share with us any additional advice you have to offer regarding spiritual reading.

2. Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week's reading.

Reading Assignment:

Week 4 –  p. 53-84 (E-Readers: I Can't Find One, Now What? through the end of Spiritual Self-Examination)

CLICK HERE to REGISTER for Webinar Discussion on 4/13 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM Central Time U.S.

NOTE: For more information on this reading and the corresponding free webinars you can sign up for CLICK HERE. There are still a few seats left so don't delay if you want to have an online conversation with Dan, Fr. Vince Huber, our fellow readers, and me.

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Robert Kraus

    Yes i do a lot of spiritual reading though, outside of this book club, it tends to flail around based on the latest recommendation from a blog I’ve read. It really doesn’t follow a coherent spiritual course, more of a meandering from spiritual formation to church history to apologetics, etc. I agree with #4…I’ve been trying to make a prayerful reading of Scripture a priority for me in the past few days and it has been a powerful experience.

    • Donald True

      Dear Robert: I have much the same problem in that I am not a disciplined reader. I may be experiencing what Becky described as ‘spiritual indigestion.’ I have numerous books and I’m constantly switching from one to the other. One of my Lenten prayers was for the strenght to start and finish one project. With that in mind I will start Pope Emerterous(sp) Benedict’s books Jesus of Nazerath along with the study guides for each book on Monday after Easter Day.

  • LizEst

    One way to insure you get your spiritual readings in is by praying the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s built in: both as a prayer and as a reading! So yes, spiritual reading is on my daily schedule…even if I only get to the Office on a busy day.

    I would add to #4 “Scripture is Essential” the quote from St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.” Of all the reading we do, Scripture is, by far, the most important. That said, it is important to have someone who is, excuse the pun, well-versed in this to help us along the way.

    Nice to hear your voice in the Webinar, Vicki. God bless you!


      Dear LizEst: Where do I find the Liturgy of the Hours that would have the Office of Readings? Thanks for your comments. Donald True

      • LizEst

        Hi frtrue75 (Donald): The Office of Readings is contained within each of the volumes of the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH). I found one at this link. The price is about what I paid for mine around ten years ago:

        If you scroll down, where it says “frequently bought together”, you will see the Saint Joseph Guide for the Liturgy of the Hours (for 2013). I highly recommend the purchase of this, too, along with the LOH. It’s only around two dollars more. It tells you what you should be praying every day of the year…and even gives you the page numbers. So, it’s invaluable. These Guides are published every year.

        If you have questions or would like some instruction on the LOH, just let me know. Short answers are easy to do here on line. For longer answers or instructions, we can exchange email addresses and I can assist directly. God bless you! Hope this helps.

        • Donald True

          Dear LizEst. Thanks for the information. I’ll check Amazon. Thanks also for your offer of instruction, I will probably need some help. Here is my email:
          Thank you. God bless you and may you have a blessed Holy Week.

      • Becky Ward

        Here’s an app that includes the breviary the Missal, and many, many prayers. You can download up to one week in advance. I’m really liking this.

        • Donald True

          Dear Becky: Thanks for the information. I appreciate your help. God bless you and may you have a blessed Holy Week. Donald

    • Good to know Liturgy of the Hours counts! But I’ve only been able to do lauds…

      • LizEst

        Mary – I guess I must not have been that clear!

        The Office of Readings, within the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH), counts as spiritual reading, but this only as an exception on a busy day when one can’t set aside time to do other spiritual reading, which would be the usual practice in addition to the LOH.

        In addition to psalms, the Office of Readings consists of two longer readings: one from Scripture and one that is hagiographical. The hagiographical readings are readings from the Doctors of the Church or from the writings of the saints, or about the saints, or even from Church documents. As a matter of fact, one of the most beautiful of these readings is coming up on Holy Saturday, an ancient homily by an unknown author.

        Hope this is clearer now. If not, ask again! God bless you!

        • Oh! Okay I get it! Been reading lauds from a Daily Gospel Diary not the full LOTH. But I just downloaded The Laudate app recently. Just checked it out there now. Now I know what it is! Will start reading it tom! 🙂 Thank you!

          • LizEst

            Good for you, Mary!

        • And the Office of the Readings, which we also call the Divine Office is, the Official Prayer of our Holy Mother Church, where one is praying with the Universal Catholic Church….so I read somewhere some years back.

    • MGW

      Liz, Thanks for that comment about praying the Office. I was hoping that was true, because I rarely find the time to read scripture after I have prayed morning prayer and my Rosary. Most days are very busy for me. But now I know I must strive make time to read. I do find great wisdom thru meditating while I am praying the Office. Also I have the best app ever for the LOH, it is Divine Office on the go by Surgeworks!

      • LizEst

        You’re welcome, MGW. The glory, of course, goes to the Lord.

        You’re right about what comes from praying the Office. It has really been a blessing for me as well. Yes, we have to do outside reading besides that…and I must do more of it myself.

        Btw, I don’t do apps because I’m just not that far up on all the gadgets (maybe some day)…though I am aware of some. I’m glad you mentioned the Surgeworks. Mary the Defender also mentioned the Laudete app and Becky Ward mentioned the ibreviary app. It’s good to let others know what is out there. We want to assist others and make things easier for others…as much as possible.

        God bless you, MGW.

  • Scott Kallal

    Hey Vicki,

    You’re absolutely right that spiritual reading – or more in general intellectual formation – is a key component of the interior journey. There are many good books on Fr. McCloskey’s list as well as Dan’s recommendations in his book. One modern classic that seems to have slipped through the cracks is Fr. Francisco Fernandez Carvajal’s “In Conversation With God.” Now, I admit we Apostles tend to recommend it as a great book for meditation, but for those who are not yet meditating or who prefer to use something else for their meditation, it’s outstanding spiritual reading. My advice? First, assuming I can take catholicity/orthodoxy for granted, start with what you love what it’s the topic or the author, or ideally both. Second, make it easy on yourself. Put your book where you’ll see it. Third, schedule it. Decide on a time when you want to read it: early in the morning with your coffee? Late at night before going to bed? Most spiritual masters agree that first thing in the morning and last thing at night are special times to feed our souls. Fourth, consistency trumps excitement. As a general rule, it’s better to take in a little bit each day, but if something really grabs you, go for it. Edith Stein read the Interior Castle in one night and said, “This is the truth.” Then she became a Catholic.

    God bless,

    Fr. Scott, AVI
    Apostles of the Interior Life

    • Vicki

      Fr. Scott – I love In Conversation with God – It’s a beautiful series! I used to read it daily, but began reading through a five year reading program of scripture, the Catechism and classics, and I didn’t have time for both.

      Your advice regarding spiritual reading is spot on – I hope many will read your comments!

  • I can’t say I’ve done that much spiritual reading. I’ve only read a handful of spiritual/theology books. Not necessarily finished them either. I’ve tried to follow this book club but school has made it hard to follow through.
    My favorite theology book back in college was “What is the Point of Being Christian” by Timothy Radcliffe OP. Hoping to do “Lord of the Rings” this summer. 🙂

    • Ditto here, Mary…….she is an intellectual midget, but, hey, I won’t despair. Reading your responses, I am learning a lot…………….what are my favourite Spiritual readings? My Daily Bread; The Diary of Saint Faustina – which I can digest and resonate with very well; The Divine Office; The Catechism – now that we are studying it in stages in this Year of Faith and as part of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy Formation; Spiritual Combat; Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence (courtesy of Dan’s generosity – God bless him always); Divine Mercy – A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI; Pillars of Fire in my Soul; Now is the Time for Mercy……..not much of Spiritual Readings here surely……..and, oh yes, The Imitation of Christ…….so I shall follow the sound advice you give here prayerfully.

  • Joelaw

    The first sentence of the last paragraph on page 79 of the book reads awkwardly. Can you clarify it.

    • LizEst

      See my post above. Thanks.

    • LizEst

      Joelaw – I asked Dan about this in January.

      He was uncertain what had happened between the writing/editing/printing process but wrote that this is what he intended, “Ultimately we are seeking to live a POSITIVE life of virtue; NOT one focused on sin or our failures. Though beginners in the spiritual life will often be required to focus on the elimination of sin, the process as a whole should be a positive, active, living path, not a negative one.” [He originally wrote the words POSITIVE and NOT in italics…but I can’t make that happen in this forum so I put them in all caps].

      Hope this helps. God bless you Joelaw.

  • Becky Ward

    I believe that spiritual reading is a must!

    I think it’s important to point out that, as God has created us each uniquely, we will all come across situations where other people are raving about a certain book (or piece of music, or movie, etc.), and we find ourselves unable to relate. It’s okay! There is also the danger of overdoing it and ending up with ‘spiritual indigestion’.

    I really like what Fr. Scott says about choosing something you love. If you’ve not read any of the saints yet, pick one that you’ve heard of – trust that the Holy Spirit will help you – and just start. On my own journey, I read one book that included another saint’s name a lot and so I read about them (or their writing) next. And so on, and so on, and so on……

    One more thing – while there are certainly very good Catholic authors who are alive and well, and whose work can be very helpful, they are not saints yet. The saints have been scrutinized by the Church and it is important that any spiritual reading program include the lives of the saints, for their love of God, what they teach, and for the example they set for us.

  • Karla Salp

    I love spiritual reading. It is my primary form of reading. One of the things I used to read that got me started was compilations of conversion stories, such as Surprised by the Truth. I’ve been Catholic my whole life, but I was always fascinated about what brought people into the Catholic church these days. One of the great things about reading those stories is that they are first, very easy to read and second, they highlight a lot of Catholic theology. Since then I’ve read tons of Catholic books. My husband and I have an entire bookshelf (floor to ceiling) of Catholic books!

    I learned a new term during the webinar last Saturday: spiritual gluttony. Someone asked how to know when all of the reading becomes spiritual gluttony. The answer (as best as I recall it) was basically when you find the practice taking the place of your other responsibilities and obligations (taking care of the kids, praying, etc.) or when you are reading more than you can actually absorb then it has become spiritual gluttony. A friend of mine and I have spoken about trying to “read” our way into heaven. I have to admit that while I certainly learn about God through reading, I have been known to let my spiritual reading take the place of prayer in my life. I love reading the books so much that I have to remember to not just read about Him but to meet Him in prayer. Often the two overlap, but I know I could benefit from more time just listening to God.

    • And, I also love to read. I prefer reading spiritual works to any other form of prayer so I have to schedule my prayer time and limit my spiritual reading. Spiritual gluttony tends to be something I have to watch out for. I have found that I do reach plateaus where I don’t want to read anything. I just need to let all that I have taken in process. With time God makes me ready to read more.

  • KD Monarch

    I spend a good part of my day doing spiritual reading. Some of my favorites sources are the Laudate App; Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year by Rev. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D.; The One-Year Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Gerry Rauch; The One Year Book of Saints by Rev. Clifford Stevens; Every Day Is a Gift by Rev. Frederick Schroeder; The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli and anything by St Teresa of Avila or Pope Benedict XVI. I tend to be a bit of a Catholic Truth Seeking Junkie:)

    Over my years of reading it has became more important to read materials that were in tune with the ebb and flow of the Liturgical Year….for everything there is a season! My hope is to someday conquer the 15 Volumes of The Liturgical Year of Dom Prosper Gueranger.

  • jewls9404

    I am always trying to get in some type of spiritual reading in. It is always all over the place with different topics. Never on a straight path. I just want to learn more and can’t get enough of it.

    • LizEst

      That is why a good spiritual director is of great assistance in helping focus your efforts. In this way, your spiritual journey will be much more fruitful because one of the devil’s great diversions is to scatter the efforts of those who are zealous, like yourself.

      This scattering of efforts has a number of effects. Among them are: a person never becomes proficient in any one thing that would help them advance in sanctity; it wears people out, with the long range effect of having them become less enthusiastic about their faith or dropping it altogether; it invites exploration of things that might not be good for someone; it strengthens a person’s resolve to do whatever they want and thus fosters disobedience. So, there are many dangers in doing this on your own.

      A trusted spiritual director can help you safely and carefully look at different spiritualities in order to find the best fit for you– i.e. Ignatian, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, etc. And, if you don’t already have a spiritual director, now is the time to begin!

      God bless you, jewls9404. Wishing you and yours a Blessed, Holy and Happy Easter.

    • I am much the same when it comes to spiritual reading. The desire to learn and grow is there…but I am all over the place.

  • GMarquez

    Just got around to reading this today, sorry! However, how very appropriate, this morning I finished my spiritual reading for Lent: Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week. I read it as previously discussed, a bit each morning. Some days I would copy passages on to my prayer journal, or write on how the reading touched me. It’s been a wonderful way to walk through these 40 days.
    Before this, I read St. Francis de Sales’ book on the interior life. There is something special about taking the time to slowly read and savor an inspired book!
    Praying about what to read next!

    • LizEst

      Wonderful!…and a Blessed, Holy and Happy Easter to you and yours.

      • GMarquez

        Thank you, and you too, Liz!

        • LizEst

          Thank you GMarquez. Hope you have a spiritual director who can help with the selection of your next book. God bless you.

          • GMarquez

            Thank you, Liz! I’ve started a wonderful little devotional book by St. Peter of Alcantara. My spiritual director approves… and I will pass the book along to him once I’m done! Sorry I have not been as engaged as I’d like to, but it’s been a busy time. God bless you, too.

          • LizEst

            What is the title of that devotional book by St. Peter of Alcántara?

          • GMarquez

            Sorry Liz… saw this only today. The book is: A Golden Treatise of Mental Prayer, Meditation, and
            Devotion, together with a Life of St. Peter of Alcantara: Franciscan
            Spirituality Series.

          • LizEst

            Thank you for that. I’ll keep that in mind…and if I loose that, I can always come back here and find your citation! Ha! God bless you, GMarquez!

  • Phew, as usual!!!! here she comes in oh, so so late. But I must ensure I read all your Responses!!!!!

    • LizEst

      You are most welcome whenever you can get here!

  • Victoria Campbell

    I am a week behind but plugging along. You would think with cycles of chemotherapy that force you to be idle reading would be a given. Not so some days you just feel so much fuzz in your brain you can’t take in the depth of Spiritual thinking. I finally finished last weeks assignment yesterday. I am a study hound but I tend to jump around. There are many books on my shelf that I have read and also those that are unfinished. I keep adding to my Amazon Wish lists and grab one every now and then. Right now with my kindle I have St Therese of Liseaux and just downloaded Frances de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life.

    Sometimes I think you can become overwhelmed by Spiritual Reading but when one of our newly initiated RCIA Candidates just gave all of us in RCIA a copy of Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic, it was just the shot I needed especially with some days not feeling up to much. He talks about 4 things we Catholics can do to change the world. One of his components is Spiritual Reading or Study. His goal is to engage all Catholics more in the faith and his suggestion for Study what if every Catholic if every parish ready 5 pages of a great Catholic book each day. The idea that something so small could have a profound change is powerful and who could argue that it would? So I have found after the last couple of weeks after receiving this book that instead of becoming overwhelmed by all the books that I could be reading during my down time and just giving up, I will persevere in the habit of reading 5 pages and if that is all I feel like well then it is still forward progress!

    • LizEst

      Good for you, Victoria. I’m still praying for you! God bless!

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